For the better part of “Torn,” the sixth episode of its third season, Battlestar Galactica seemed to almost turn into Lost. The show’s complex mythology inched forward (it had mostly been abandoned in the latter half of Season Two for the Pegasus arc and the New Caprica arc), questions were dangled only to go unanswered, and characters continuously made the subtext text. Then, as the episode ended, Galactica reminded its viewers why they watch—the progress made in the mythology was substantial, at least one major question was answered, and the subtext was neatly folded back in on itself.
Plenty of scenes in the episode, though, hit the nail too squarely on the head. Tigh (Michael Hogan, still sporting the gauzy eye patch instead of a more pirate-y accessory) and Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) continued to rail about how difficult life had been for the New Capricans. While their bitterness felt real and it’s not as though they didn’t have a hard time planetside (Starbuck became the object of a Cylon’s affections then gained and lost a child; Tigh turned soldiers into suicide bombers then killed his own wife), both characters spent the majority of their screen time complaining loudly to anyone who would listen, sowing dissension in the most conspicuous and least believable way possible. The two characters have always been loudmouths when drunk, but the episode’s attempts to make their bile as visible as possible felt like a way to speed along the characters’ psychological strife in order to slough off the last remaining bits of the New Caprica arc (the fact that Apollo seemingly lost 100 pounds in a week also contributed to this feeling). Part of this may be because the show hasn’t given us a terribly solid time element to hang on to—we don’t know if this episode occurs weeks or months after the last one, but weeks would seem to more likely, as over on board the Cylon Basestar, Baltar (James Callis) is still waiting to find out if he will die or not.
The scenes on board the Basestar were actually more interesting than the Galactica scenes for the most part. Not every one of these scenes worked—in particular, when Baltar first woke up and informed Number Six (Tricia Helfer) just how ambiguous he found the morals of his actions to be, the dialogue was fairly clumsy. But the ideas the show’s producers are building the Cylon civilization around are fascinating. I’m not completely sure where they’re going with some of it, but these ideas seem to grow organically both out of the Cylons’ mechanical nature and their fundamentalist religion. In particular, the Cylons are all a part of a massive collective that’s not quite a hive-mind, but allows them to focus their energies as a group on various problems. At the same time, every Cylon is able to perceive the rather drab basestars they make their homes in in any way they want. While we’ll have to wait for more information about the Cylon society to draw any final conclusions, this conflict between ideas of the collective and the individual seems a perfect counterpart to any fundamentalist religion, where the various adherents are tied in to a greater purpose they believe deeply in, but those same adherents are also able to perceive their relationships with their god in completely separate and different ways.
Other information provided to us about the Cylon society felt a little less organic. D’Anna (Lucy Lawless) described the entire ship Baltar is aboard as a giant ecosystem, which is a fascinating way to approach the idea of how intelligent machines would regard the technological networks they would die without, but this idea was merely alluded to throughout. Instead, we learned that the basestar is propelled by the decisions of a hybrid woman, kept in a watery tank, constantly speaking in programming language. Her long strings of gibberish would occasionally culminate in commands to the ship (most often “Jump!”), but the whole idea felt a little undercooked. Again, we’ll get several weeks to see how the hybrid and the Cylons are integrated together, but this was an inauspicious debut for the character (not to mention that the Cylon ship already feels heavily influenced by Close Encounters of the Third Kind, so the seemingly blatant homage to Minority Report made the whole basestar feel like the Steven Spielberg revue).
Meanwhile, back on board Galactica, the Starbuck and Tigh storyline culminated in a well-written scene between the two malcontents and Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos). Olmos hasn’t been given as much to do as he has in previous seasons, but this scene was easily the highlight so far. His quiet assessment of Tigh and Starbuck as people poisoning his fleet and his order to them to (in essence) shape up or ship out was nicely underplayed, and the resulting moment when Starbuck decided to put her life back together (complete with the shorn locks fans have been waiting for) while Tigh decided to drop out, continuing to seek solace in the bottle, nicely gave a purpose to the earlier bitterness from the characters.
But neither of these plotlines was really the reason for this episode. Sweeps month has started, so Galactica is returning to plotlines it has let languish, in particular the search for Earth. The search for Earth has always been in the background of the series from a purely plot point-of-view (after all, how many times can the characters find new signposts pointing the way to us?), but in this episode, it took a huge leap forward, as notes left by Baltar led to a nebula that provided the necessary road map to find the way back to Earth. Meanwhile, the Cylons also began their search for Earth, using Baltar himself to find the nebula on their own. When they did, they brought a beacon (placed there by parties unknown) on board their ship, which unleashed a deadly virus that has the potential to kill the entire Cylon race. Meanwhile, Baltar discovered that not even the Cylons know who the final five models of their race are (this, at least, was strongly hinted at). His confusion and fear that he himself might be a Cylon was a nice parallel for us in the audience, who long to know these answers as much as he does. We did learn, however, that Baltar is definitively not a Cylon, as the virus didn’t seem to affect him at all. We’re left with a scene that strongly suggests the humans have learned of the virus and may use it to their own ends.
That’s a lot of information to throw into one episode, and the sheer amounts of exposition (both needed to advance the plot and catch up new viewers) threatened to unhinge the episode at any moment. One of the hallmarks of science fiction is the infodump—the period in the story when the futuristic technology or society is described as quickly and painlessly as possible. Battlestar Galactica hasn’t had to have an infodump episode for almost a season now, and this one certainly made up for the exposition deficit in spades. Now, we’ll hope enough of that info was dumped to last the show for another season.